It’s a humid late summer evening in Digbeth and the top floor of Minerva Works, home to Birmingham’s Grand Union, has transformed into a collection of sweaty bodies mixing in the gallery space. Weaving in and out of these bodies with a collection of singing, dancing, vaping and harp playing are Susie Green and Rory Pilgrim (together The Brilliant State.) The audience track both artists around the space (being careful not to get tangled in the trailing rope of ‘Slow Burn’ (all works 2017) as Pilgrim and Green tenderly dress and undress each other to a mixture of choral, dance and pop music. It’s a joyfully indulgent and playful performance; at moments evoking two best friends dancing around in a bedroom together, in others, an intimate exchange between artist, instrument/object and audience.
Earlier that day, the first impression of Susie Green’s exhibition ‘Pleasure is a Weapon’ is one of restraint and moderation; surprising for an exhibition about pleasure, desire and excess. A piece of rope ‘Slow Burn’, connected at 10 metre intervals by metal loops, makes up 8 of the show’s 15 pieces. This work forms a narrative guide around the space with each of the 8 sections having subtitles such as ‘Slow Burn (Pause)’ and ‘Slow Burn (Ornament)’. The rope itself alternates between being pulled taught between the floor and the ceiling, and being left slack, creating moments of tension and relaxation as you move throughout the exhibition. Referencing the practice of bondage, the distribution of rope throughout the space forces the viewer to weave in and out, both with their gaze and their body.
Across the other side of the gallery is ‘Relief, Relief’, a wall of delicate tissue paper patterned with yellow paint. The technique used by Green brings to mind the texture of magnified skin. As the tissue flutters in the drafty gallery, it feels like an expectant quivering body calling out to be touched. These encounters are important in unpacking the way Green approaches pleasure and desire throughout this exhibition. The physical and ornamental properties of the works give form to both Green’s and the viewer’s experiences of intimacy, pleasure and desire. The simplicity of the exhibition creates an environment where the viewer becomes sensitive to even the flutter of a sheet of paper in the gallery space. In these subtle moments, Green is holding pleasure and desire out at arm’s length for us to consider and indulge in.
This continues on the remaining walls, where three small A4 watercolours entitled ‘Bruno’, ‘Adam’ and ‘Oliver’. Each is an abstract depiction of intimate sexual encounters Green has had. For Green, they all depict different levels of intimacy manifested through their abstract form. For the viewer, one might look like a reclining nude or an architectural drawing. In their abstraction, these works have the potential to speak to and of our own desires which become encoded within them as we view.
Throughout the exhibition, the tone is set by ‘Gift of Tongues’ (2017), a soundtrack made up of two of Green’s musical collaborations; The Brilliant State (with artist Rory Pilgrim) and Splash Addict (her collaboration with artist Simon Bayliss.) It occupies the space and the work, reframing the exhibition as it drifts between choral music, joyful pop and field recordings.
While economic in its use of materials, each piece in the exhibition encourages us to encounter or inhabit desire in a different way, pulling us in and out of different levels of intimacy both with the objects, the artist herself and each other. Stood in the sweaty collection of bodies on that Friday evening, we transform from a group of strangers into a captivated collective, moving as one within the exhibition to accommodate Pilgrim and Green and illuminating the transformative potential of pleasure. It’s these transformations, as well as the moments of collective and individual joy felt throughout the exhibition and performance that are the triumph of Green’s work here.